Alaska Loses Another Cruise Ship; Is Canada Next?

June 27, 2009
Spirit of Oceanus As we reported previously, Cruise West has scaled back its Alaska sailings this year by relocating three of the eight ships that offered itineraries in the region in 2008. The latest reports now say that the line will remove another ship, Spirit of Oceanus, for its 2010 season, decreasing its Alaska fleet from five vessels to four.

A statement from Cruise West says that the move was made in response to waning passenger demand, begging the question of why Alaska is becoming increasingly less popular. Despite lower fares of late -- particularly among mainstream lines, due to the struggling economy -- the overall cost of an Alaska cruise is still higher than, say, a Caribbean voyage. Shore excursions in Alaska can also be significantly more expensive than those offered in other regions, and Alaska trips often require pricey one-way airfares if they do not sail roundtrip.

And then there's the issue of the controversial state-imposed head tax -- a per-person fee that's assessed to all Alaska cruise passengers to fund port improvement projects. Royal Caribbean and Princess have also announced cutbacks on Alaska sailings recently as a result of declining interest in the region, citing the hefty tax as part of the problem.

When Spirit of Yorktown, Spirit of Endeavour, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Columbia return to the region next year, Spirit of Oceanus will, instead, offer a new world cruise itinerary from Singapore to Singapore, lasting a whopping 335 days. Some of the scheduled ports of call include Mumbai, Istanbul, Rome, Barcelona, London, Halifax, Panama and Sydney.

In related news, Canada/New England may face a similar fate as soon as 2015 if the International Maritime Organization approves a joint request from Canada and the U.S. to designate coastal ports in those regions as Emission Control Areas. It's a move that would require ships to use more environmentally friendly -- and expensive -- fuel. The upcharge would be passed on to customers, like the Alaska head tax, and could cost a family of four roughly $200 extra for a seven-night cruise, according to a report from Seatrade's Cruise Community.

Will such fees be approved? If so, how will they affect Canada/New England's popularity? The answer may be years away, but stay tuned.

--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor